Fortunately, we recognize those that may become endangered or even have the potential to become extinct, and steps are being taken to preserve a few. Everyone knows the giant panda for example, and in 2016 their status was changed from “endangered” to “vulnerable”, following targeted breeding and conservation efforts, including work by the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and the
China Wildlife Conservation Association. But there aren’t many left – only 1,864 pandas remain in the wild according to the World Wildlife Fundand about 600 live in captivity.
Here’s another – what do you know about the African forest elephant? They are smaller than the others and have straight, downward-pointing tusks, unlike savannah elephants which have upward-curving tusks. You could round up all the elephants and say yes, they are being poached for their tusks – which they are – but this one has a slower reproductive rate than any other. They do not reach sexual maturity until they are 23 years old and have a gestation period of about two years. In this case, the population decline caused by poaching, the bushmeat trade, logging operations and the loss of natural resources is more devastating. According to the African Wildlife Federation, if poaching stopped today, scientists say it would take 81 years to reverse the 62% decline recorded over the past decade.
How do animals become endangered or even extinct?
Unfortunately, it has a lot to do with us humans. Habitat loss is an area where land is being developed for housing, industry and agriculture. Development can directly eliminate native habitat and species. In the South American Amazon rainforest, developers have cleared hundreds of thousands of acres. “Clearing” land means removing all trees and vegetation, and it is cleared for cattle ranches, logging and urban use.
Many animals have a hunting radius of several hundred kilometers. For instance,
the mountain lion of North America needs a territory ranging from 30 to 125 square miles to live and reproduce. As urban areas expand into the wild, their habitat becomes smaller, meaning fewer mountain lions could be supported. Since huge parts of the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains and Cascades mountain ranges remain undeveloped, cougars are not – for now – on the endangered species list.
The red list
The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a “Red List of Threatened Species”, and this list defines the severity and specific causes of a species’ threat of extinction. The Red List has seven conservation statuses: Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and Extinct. Each category represents a different level of threat. Biologists, anthropologists, meteorologists and other scientists have developed complex methods to determine the probability of extinction of a species. These formulas calculate the chances that a species can survive, without human protection, in the wild. Some species have already been extinct since 2019 – Black softshell turtle, Deer of Father David, Hawaiian crowthe
Wyoming toad, the Franklin tree. Yes, they may seem insignificant and you’ve probably never heard of them, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Overexploitation (hunting, overfishing), invasive species, climate change, emerging diseases and nitrogen pollution are all additional causes of extinction. 75% of the world’s food crops are partially or completely pollinated by insects and other animals, and virtually all flowering plants in the tropical rainforest are pollinated by animals. Loss of pollinators could lead to decreased seed and fruit production, ultimately leading to the extinction of many important foods.
I don’t think there is a single answer to preservation. It shouldn’t be a problem that we leave to the next generation. The planet is getting warmer and some species are losing their habitat because of it and will die if they haven’t already.
Preservation plans are too complex a topic for me to address here in this small space, but it’s definitely something we should all be doing something about. Knowledge is power – it’s up to us to stay informed and act on it.